American Propagandist Warns of Russian Propaganda

Power peddles fresh outrage at dissenting voices

After President Donald Trump’s detestable performance at the United Nations General Assembly last week, the New York Times had an opportunity to counter the president’s heedless belligerence with a message of diplomacy and dialogue. What it did instead was publish an op-ed from discredited former ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Obama’s unforgivable appointment and one of the principal arm-twisters that convinced an irresolute president to get behind an invasion of a sovereign state (Libya) on the basis of manufactured lies too incredulous to believe. This unrepentant jackanape had the temerity to pen an article calling on Americans to heed George Washington’s ancient warning to be “constantly awake” to the specter of foreign influence, a prelude to the establishment goal of outlawing foreign media and exerting a stronger grip on the information flow in the digital space.

With any Power essay, her smart media handlers make sure that her photo is always a central element of her pose. She perpetually appears in a posture of earnestness, her face displaying a kind of inveterate sadness born of too much knowledge of humanity’s dark side. Her somewhat emaciated cheeks, particularly in black and white photographs, lend her the self-abnegating glow of an ascetic or religious eremite. Having absorbed the image of this saintly spirit, readers then move to her missive.

Shuttering Dissent

Power, whose presence in the UN was a carmine monument to hypocrisy, quickly summons the hysterical phantom of Russian election interference as her theme. As any good paid propagandist would do, Power tells us we can focus on the technical details of the hacking, influencing, meddling, and manipulating, but we shouldn’t overlook other vile means by which foreign powers ruin our democracy by “aiming falsehoods at ripe subsets of our population–and not only during elections.”

Here Power reveals her multiple goals. First, she aims to shift the narrative away from the collapsing scenery of the Russian hacking allegation, since the technical facts now show that DNC emails were leaked by an insider, not hacked by a foreign agent. This is what the mainstream press has been slowly doing for months now, moving the debate from the phantom hack itself to the influence of so-called propaganda platforms funded by Russian government, namely RT and Sputnik, and several thousands bots of unknown provenance on social media. In truth, the majority of the intelligence community’s report on the hacking was forced to point fingers at RT and other sources, which proved nothing but adequately deflected attention from the false claims of hacking. The narrative thus moves from hacking to influencing, a softer accusation but one that will be enthusiastically peddled by the likes of Power.

The influence narrative is also easier to sustain, since it is quite possible that RT influenced some voters, though its impact on the outcome itself was likely benign given the extraordinary weight of domestic propaganda that overwhelmed the American mediascape through the electoral season. But RT provides a much-needed counterpoint to Washington media, which all peddle the same caricatures of the world at large, in which America is a shining city on a hill, the envy of nations, noble in intent, a just arbiter of disputes, ever hopeful, yet ever disappointed by the chronic recidivism of ‘developing’ nations.

Second, Power seems to support the false dichotomy that some of us are vulnerable and others are not. Those in power have the full knowledge required to separate the wheat from the chaff, while average citizens haven’t got the requisite toolset to the do the job themselves. Not only is this false, as progressive independent media outlets demonstrate daily, but it is deeply elitist. It is also the foreground of her third and ultimate aim: to outlaw foreign news media in the United States that doesn’t parrot the State Department’s shapeshifting of reality.

Demonizing the Ruskies

Power provides some tasty bits about former USSR leader Yuri Andropov’s ‘active measures’ (as opposed to static measures) in the Eighties. Had Andropov, a smart Soviet who lasted only 15 months in power due to illness, survived in power, the Soviet Union might still stand. But he was up against the tidal force of Ronald Reagan, a vicious anti-communist who declared the USSR an “evil empire” (points for phrasing if nothing else), launched a Star Wars initiative, and explored first-strike options as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) dissolved in the cold past.

Having dutifully dissed the Soviets, she assumes that Russia information aimed at American audiences is de facto propaganda because she assumes that Russia is an adversary. She sadly relates that citizens get their news from social media more than ever, and concludes that they probably can’t decipher real from fake news without the assistance of “umpires” that, ostensibly, would not teach them to separate fact from fiction, but would simply elide what they judged factitious from the news stream altogether.

Power then seconds the Facebook claim that Russia may have spent $50-100,000 in paid media to spread anti-Clinton stories, although the social network offered no evidence. She makes similar claims about Russian activity in Europe. “Russia “appears” to be using the same tactics abroad and is “believed” to have committed cyber attacks and has been “accused” of fabricating stories.

The Bane of Partyism

The former ambassador, who once rightly called Hillary Clinton “a monster”, comically laments the loss of “mainstream consensus” of the sort that existed during the McCarthy era, when groupthink had its firmest grip on the American conscience. She blames “partyism”, apparently an inelegant replacement for “partisanship” as another cause of our fractured corporate narrative. (Note that ‘partisanship’ is consistently derided and is a pejorative term in the corporate press. Lockstep is preferred.) One can see Power’s fingers trembling as she hammers out the incredulous news that Republican voters’ esteem of Vladimir Putin rose 20 percent in the last two years. (Perhaps here she hurled her wireless Apple keyboard at the wall of her well-appointed DC loft). She finds it “worrisome” that a majority of citizens now question the veracity of corporate-sponsored mainstream news.

To her credit, Ms. Power does call out the fact that, in their brief and scurrilous prime, ISIS produced 38 pieces of media a day. All governments and would-be governments will produce pro-government propaganda, Russia included. But they will also report facts. Michael Parenti, in his book Blackshirts & Reds, has a chapter detailing the terrible collapse of social supports in Eastern Europe that immediately followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the happy introduction of cutthroat free-market capitalism. Nearly every source he uses comes from American mainstream media. The question is how the facts are spun, what facts are omitted, and what falsehoods are introduced. For much of the mainstream media, the collapse of social infrastructure and the violent suppression of communist organizations after the fall of the Wall were presented as forms of “democratization” by the west.

A look at RT will quickly demonstrate that it is comprised primarily of principled Americans exposing the lies of their own corporate media, and providing much-needed facts and insight into the actions of the U.S. government. This is necessary and useful counter-check on the false narrative constructs of the corporate-owned media, which citizens rightly distrust. The channel may be funded by the Russian government, but that doesn’t mean all of its content is propaganda. It should be cautiously approached, just as a corporate-owned venue like the Washington Post should be cautiously approached. But each claim should be received on its merits. The New York Times and Washington Post have truthful articles all the time, but they also produce enormously influential propaganda. We have to take an evidentiary approach to what we read, noting its source, its sponsors, and its context. This is the essence of democratic ideal–people deciding for themselves. But Power thinks we need umpires to make these decisions for us.

The Virtue of Skepticism

Unsurprisingly, Power proposes what social philosopher John Stuart Mill warned us to question. He said the freethinking mind should be characterized by, “…an extreme skepticism about the right of any authority to determine which opinions are noxious or abhorrent.” We have lacked this skepticism for decades, but it is finally on the rise. Still, we are still often guilty of placing our complacent, lazy faith in the op-eds of mainstream publishers, largely because we think they are independent. The Russian-created RT, formerly Russia Today, is considered to be an alarming propagandist front for Kremlin mischief mainly because it is openly funded by the Russian state, an undisguised concession to the likely slant of its coverage. But all our corporate media need do is peddle its dogmatic rubbish under some private masthead for the masses to buy in. This is the astonishingly low bar one needs to cross to convince the public of one’s autonomy. But nominal independence from the state does not mean genuine independence from capital. It is the corporate sector that controls the narrative in the United States.

Power calls out the “bipartisan” nature of the new Alliance for Securing Democracy, a thought-cleansing front established as an unconvincing nonpartisan defender of democracy. The Intercept calls it a well-funded national security advocacy group” that further concretizes the Democratic Party’s alliance with “extreme and discredited neocons” from the Bush era. The group is led by Clinton and Rubio advisors Laura Rosenberger and Jamie Fly, respectively, and sulphurous spin doctors like Bill Kristol and establishment hawks like Michael Morrell, Michael Chertoff, and the noxious Mike Rogers. This formation is a good indication of how corporate parties react when pushed from the left: they try to discredit the left-wing and secure right-wing support.

In sum, the former ambassador’s perspective distills to this: social media and partyism have created narrative gaps through which foreign media may slip. This is bad. We need umpires to decide what we read in order to re-establish mainstream consensus. It is bad when people lose faith in the corporate news. We must all be vigilant against foreign powers practicing “the arts of seduction.” This sounds like a lot like censorship and a subtle effort to undermine the first amendment, which few, if any, people in positions of power truly support, Rand Paul excepted.

Obama, who oversaw spying on the Republican presidential campaign, prosecuted whistleblowers with a vengeance, sanctioned mass surveillance of Americans and outsourced it when it violated standing laws, was perhaps the most anti-free speech president of the last 100 years. In fact, this alliance is a natural outgrowth of the dissembling Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act built into the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and signed by President Obama. Power is a vestige of this regime of control and, ironically for a supposed feminist, shares its paternalistic ideology. She ought to be laughed off the op-ed page. Unfortunately, the papers she writes for are peddling the very imperial falsehoods she pretends to care about.

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at Read other articles by Jason.